Though it’s been several months since my premier night viewing of Atlas Shrugged, I thought I’d write up my first impressions nonetheless.
Unfortunately, as a stand-alone film it gets an objective thumbs down. If you don’t know anything about Rand or her ideas you’re probably not going to leave the theater a true believer, probably not even a true understander.
On the other hand, fanboys (which I’ll admit to being to a certain degree) will definitely swoon when hella-romantical Henry gifts his wife a bracelet forged from the first batch of metal. For non-noobs to Rand, I suggest inviting thoughtful friends too impatient for a 2000 page schlep and discussing themes over dinner and drinks thereafter.
I am willing to defend the film and Rand from a certain form of criticism that I hear frequently – more frequently since the premier. To many readers, Rand doesn’t know how to write. Her characters are stiff emotionless clones of one another – what gives?
I get frustrated hearing this criticism of Rand, because I think it communicates more about the critic than about the nature of Rand’s ideas or style per se. In other words, “Rand’s characters are two dimensional” is just something that people who don’t understand Rand tend to say.
To many, Rand’s characters feel like robotic automatons akin to the creepy cyborgs of formal neo-classical economics. They act as if they are only motivated by money and self-interest. When these readers get to the parts of Rand’s novels about romantic relations it’s an awkward experience to say the least. Randian robot sex is cold, stiff and unpleasant. But this is the wrong way to read Rand, and unfortunately the opportunity for this misinterpretation is exaggerated rather than ameliorated by the cinematic adaptation.
My complaint about Rand in general is a minor one, she labeled and titled things poorly. Had only she had not been so overly confident as to call her system Objectivism. Randianism would have been just fine and arguably would have avoided many of her philosophical and or meta-physical shortcomings.
Selfishness is another word that Rand misuses in reference to her own ideas and characters. The romantic relationships between Rand’s characters do not reflect a strict definition of selfishness per se. The heroes of Rand’s novels are connected with regard to a common principle. Rather than awarding social approbation according to traditional social conventions (he’s so nice, she’s so hot, he’s so giving and caring), they award respect and admiration with regard to the real outcomes and influences of one another’s actions (Dagny runs one heckuva railroad). This is fundamentally a Smithian point – a methodological perspective that Rand borrows from economic science and in doing so she is an extremely talented writer in so far as she can articulate its complexity in the unconventional setting of fiction.
From this perspective the film suffers because society itself is a missing character. When one goes the long way through the written tome, she turns page after page of descriptive text about the state of Rand’s fictional world. Political drama, economic processes, union conflicts, etc. they are all described in detail with regard to how they effect the real populations of people out and about living within the world. Dagny’s incredible rails and Rearden’s nifty metals make these peoples’ lives better and the world itself a better place to live within. When one reads about what Rand’s heroes have done for the world, it is not as hard to see why one might get a hard on about it. Aside from a few swift montage sequences, this experience is relatively absent from the film.
Admittedly, I have no idea how such themes could have better been included.